'Miracle on the Hudson' pilot sits down with cadets

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Retired US Airways Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who saved 155 lives on Flight 1549 after a heroic emergency landing on the Hudson River in 2009, visited the Academy Oct. 20 to hear cadets' thoughts on veteran care.

Sullenberger, Class of '73, asked 10 cadets to share their perspectives on the challenges and perception of veterans today, and to think 25 years ahead about the expectations and wellbeing of service members. He recorded the discussion for his next blog, scheduled to be posted on Veteran's Day, Nov. 11.

"It was really interesting to hear their points of view," the former Air Force captain said. "For several months, I've been writing about veterans' issues. The VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) has a Make the Connection program focusing on providing a way for veterans to connect and share their stories so they know they're not the only ones experiencing certain issues and feelings, such as depression, sadness, anxiety or stress. It was a wonderful exchange with cadets; they were a thoughtful, motivated and well-spoken group."

Sullenberger also asked cadets why they chose the Academy.

"Growing up in Iowa, I was far away from the military," said Cadet 1st Class Sam Larson, a Wings of Blue member. "My only exposure was attending a hometown airshow where I'd watch the Thunderbirds (U.S. Air Force Aerial Demonstration Team) and Wings of Blue (Academy parachute team) perform. That's how I found out about the Academy and it seemed like a noble goal and lifestyle. Flying for the Air Force seemed like a great way to add purpose to my life and a great dream to pursue."

Cadet 1st Class George Antoniou, an Academy Flying Team member, said the Air Force core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do, should be integrated throughout society as a whole.

"Especially in terms of leadership," he said. "I think our core values can definitely be translated to the civilian world. They're what we embody here but aren't exclusive to the Air Force in terms of the impact they can have on an organization, especially when it comes to integrity. A lot of missteps you see in the business world involve a lack of integrity."

Cadet 2nd Class Vaughn Campbell, a soaring instructor pilot, said it's essential veterans continue to receive support from their family and the military community when transitioning out of the military.

"We need to continually receive support from fellow wingmen when we're on active duty with and establish good connections within our own family to fix challenges and conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," he said. "The more resources veterans have when exiting the military, the easier it will be for them to better their situations."

Sullenberger received the Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship Award and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology while he was a cadet here. He said the Academy was challenging for good reason and provided a valuable education.

"For me it was the realization it can't just be about me," he said. "We have an obligation to our service, squadron and our society. It's a civic duty; it's about serving a cause greater than one self. I think that thought process and awareness is a big part of what military service is all about."

In 2009, Sullenberger received the Col. James Jabara Award for Airmanship and last visited the Academy in 2013 to attend his graduating class's 40-year reunion.

"I certainly knew I wanted to fly at a very young age," he said. "I chose the Academy because I thought, 'what better way to fly than fly high performance jets in the Air Force?' I also felt an obligation to serve, just like my father's generation did."

Sullenberger was piloting an Airbus 320 from New York's LaGuardia Airport Jan. 15, 2009, when his plane suffered a double bird strike taking out both engines shortly after takeoff. He landed Flight 1549 on the Hudson River after realizing it was impossible to land at another airport. All passengers survived.

Sullenberger was an F-4 Phantom pilot for five years and a US Airways commercial pilot for 30. He was able to remain calm amid the horror on Flight 1549, and attributes his composure to learning how to control stress throughout his experiences.

"It's still a shock," he told cadets. "There is no training for something like that. I think my life experiences helped me prepare as well as one can for something so unanticipated. The fact that I was able to maintain a professional calmness and had the discipline to focus clearly on the task at hand is what was important."

Sullenberger is a resident of Danville, Calif.